FALL RIVER, city in S.E. Massachusetts near Rhode Island border. The Jewish population of Fall River has been declining for the past 35 years and now numbers less than 1,000, a decrease from the 1970 population of 4,000 Jews. Attracted by the early cotton-manufacturing industries, the first Jews settled in Fall River during the 1860s and 1870s. Formal religious services were first held in 1874. These first settlers were German Jews; the community and its religious, social, and welfare institutions were soon changed considerably by the in-flux of Russian immigrants in the 1880s and 1890s. Two of the three congregations serving the community in 1970 – American Brothers of Israel and Congregation Adas Israel – were established in this era. Adas Israel, originally the Adas Israel Society, was founded in 1885; dissidents from Adas Israel established the American Brothers of Israel about 1892. At the beginning of the 20th century a third synagogue, Aguda B'nai Jacob, was founded. Abraham Lipshitz began ministering to these three congregations, which made up the Orthodox community, about 1910, serving them for over 30 years. In the decade 1910–20 Congregation Beth David was founded, Hebrew schools were established, and in 1924 a Conservative synagogue, Temple Beth El, was founded. Morton Goldberg served the congregation from 1925 to 1937, when Jacob Freedman replaced him as spiritual leader. Rabbi Freedman helped found the Fall River Jewish Community Council (1938), which in 1970 included about 25 societies and organizations. The other major communal institution is the Fall River United Jewish Appeal.
Jews prominent in Fall River life have included David L. Gourse, clothier and commissioner of public welfare; Albert Rubin, a state legislator for many years; H. William Radovsky, finance commissioner; and Rabbi Samuel Ruderman, long considered the spokesman for the Jewish community. David H. Radovsky and Moses Entin both played important roles in fraternal organizations and in the Zionist movement. Two nationally known businessmen and philanthropists, Jacob Ziskind and Albert A. List, were from Fall River. Another resident, Dr. Irving Fradkin, inaugurated Dollars for Scholars, an educational funding program which has been adopted by communities throughout the United States.
From their arrival in Fall River, Jews were involved in peddling and in operating small retail establishments. Many Jewish-owned businesses suffered as a result of the 1904 textile strike. Later, large furniture and retail clothing stores were established, and Jews engaged in finance and in operating textile mills. Although textile production has decreased, many Jews are involved in garment contracting; others are professionals, small retailers, and landlords. The declining Jewish population in Fall River can be attributed to a high rate of intermarriage as well as to increased social and physical mobility; Somerset and Highlands are new areas of Jewish residence.